On March 31, 1976, Andre Turcat ended the chapter of his life that made him famous. For the last time, he turned Concorde’s engines off after landing in Toulouse. After 740 hr. on Concorde and 6,500 hr. total on 110 different aircraft types, France’s most well-known pilot went into early retirement. He never flew an aircraft again except, of course, as a passenger.

It was an unusual decision at the relatively young age of 54, particularly given that his life as a test pilot reaped many accolades and awards. His many record-breaking achievements and other successes had brought him much satisfaction, and had turned him into a national legend. But Turcat was not just an unusually skilled test pilot, he was also an enormously educated, knowledgeable person with strong interests in other fields. And what new aviation challenges could ever rival his work as the French chief test pilot of Concorde?

On March 2, 1969, Turcat, co-pilot Jacques Guignard, Henri Perrier and Michel Retif flew Concorde for the first time. The aircraft took off from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and returned to the field a little less than half an hour later. He left the landing gear and the aircraft’s famous visor down, climbed to 10,000 ft. and executed some initial handling tests. Concorde performed well, but the weather deteriorated. Back on the ground, Turcat stood in front of the crowd and announced that first flight was “not an achievement,” but only the beginning of a lot of work. He predicted it would take years before passengers would be able to fly at supersonic speeds.

He was, of course, right. Concorde would not be certified until late 1975 after approximately six years of testing, dramatic cost overruns and dwindling customer interest. But Turcat defended Concorde and fought for the project long after he had left it—in particular following the May 25, 2000, crash that turned out to be the beginning of the end for the program.

In the mid-1970s, he began pursuing his many other interests. Politics was one. He had already started his second career as a deputy mayor of Toulouse and was a member of the European Parliament in 1980-81. In 1983, Turcat founded the famous Academie de l’Air et de l’Espace. But he soon left politics in favor of pursuing arts and history, receiving a doctorate in 1990. A deeply religious person, he later studied theology. His many books cover not only aviation, but the arts and the Bible.

He was born in 1921, into a family of one of the first French car manufacturers (Turcat-Mery). He joined the French air force during World War II—he mentioned in one interview that he “accidentally” opted for a military career—and was certified as a pilot in 1947. After leaving military service, he joined the flight-test center in Bretigny-sur-Orge in 1950 and set various speed records. He received the Harmon Trophy in 1958 for his early achievements and a second time in 1970 for his role in the Concorde program.

The late Pierre Sparaco, a former Aviation Week & Space Technology Paris bureau chief, was a friend and colleague of Andre Turcat and captured much of the essence of the man in Andre Turcat: Biography and Concorde: La veritable histoire.

Andre Turcat died Jan. 4 at his home near Aix-en-Provence. He was 94.